A Sample of Historical Bankruptcy Cases

Stylized petition for bankruptcy circa 1920. Image by Ben Gregson.


Over 34 million individuals and businesses have used the federal bankruptcy law since 1898.

Would you be surprised to find out that researchers and policymakers interested in studying the causes and consequences of bankruptcy can readily download detailed information about just a few hundred bankrupt households and virtually no bankrupt businesses?

This project aims to stimulate interdisciplinary research on the causes and consequences of bankruptcy and on the history of credit markets more generally by:


We took almost 525,000 photographs of documents from more than 25,000 cases files in 24 federal district courts located in 18 states.

We have published papers, working papers, dissertations, and undergraduate theses using data from cases filed in

  • Maryland (Baltimore division) between 1940 and 2002,
  • Mississippi (six division courts in the Northern and Southern districts) during the Great Depression, and
  • Missouri (St. Louis court in the Eastern district and Kansas City court in the Western district) between 1898 and 1945.

We continue to transcribe and clean data.


We appreciate the support of the funders who contributed to the project to create A Sample of Historical Bankruptcy Cases.

American University Faculty Research Support Grant (2011-12)

American University College of Arts and Sciences Mellon Grant (2011)

Rutgers University Faculty Research Grant (2012)

Institute for New Economic Thinking (Grant ID INO11-00044), "Emergency Preservation of Federal Bankruptcy Court Records," (co-PI Michelle Miller, Rutgers Business School; subcontract to Tarun Sabarwal, University of Kansas) August 1, 2011-December 31, 2012

Alfred P. Sloan Foundation (Grant Number 2011-6-16), "Digital Preservation of Bankruptcy Court Records, 1898-2000," (co-PI Michelle Miller, Rutgers Business School) September 15, 2011-October 31, 2012

National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges Endowment for Education, "Opening New Views into Bankruptcy and Credit Markets Using Court Records," January 1, 2013-December 31, 2013

National Science Foundation, Economics Program Dissertation Improvement Grant (SES-1324468), " Doctoral Dissertation Research in Economics: The Impact of Medicare on Bankruptcy," dissertation supervisor for Megan Fasules, August 15, 2013-July 31, 2014

National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges Endowment for Education, "Continuing Funding for Opening New Views into Bankruptcy and Credit Markets Using Court Records," January 1, 2014-June 30, 2014

National Science Foundation, Economics and Law and Social Sciences Programs (SES-1355742), " Collaborative Research: Opening New Views into Bankruptcy and Credit Markets Using Court Records," June 1, 2014-May 31, 2016

Loyola Marymount University, Rains Research Assistant Program, 2013-2016

Loyola Marymount University, Bellarmine Research Award Program, 2015-2016

Computing resources provided through National Science Foundation Major Research Instrumentation Program Grant (BCS-1039497).

Special access to the holdings of the National Archives is provided by Agreement with American University. The National Archives plans to make the photographs taken under this agreement available to the public through its Online Public Access.


Project Director

Mary Eschelbach Hansen, American University

Co-Investigators on Sponsored Awards

Michelle McKinnon Miller, Loyola Marymount University

Los Angeles

John Parman, The College of William & Mary

Tarun Sabarwal, The University of Kansas

Collaborators on Papers

Nicolas L. Ziebarth, Auburn University

Bradley A. Hansen, University of Mary Washington

John Pedersen, PhD Candidate, Binghamton University

Contributors to Proposals

Dov Cohen, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Robert M. Lawless, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and blogger at Credit Slips

Joseph Mason, Louisiana State University

Project Consultants and Advisors

Lendol Caldor, Augustana College

Richard Hynes, University of Virginia

Graduate Student Team Members

American University

Matthew Reardon 2013 Megan L. Fasules 2011-2014 Phanwin Yokying 2012 Huancheng Du 2011 Smriti Tiwari 2011 Yuning (Jess) Chen 2011-2013 Namuna Amgalan 2013-2014 Moon Oulatta 2013-2014 Aubrey Land 2013 Audrey Wright 2014-2015 Amanda Zarka 2015-2017 Tanima Ahmed 2016-2017 Dongping Xie 2016-2017 Amineh Kamranzadeh 2017

Independent Research

Megan L. Fasules 2012-2015 Yuning (Jess) Chen 2013-2015 Dongping Xie 2014-2015 Matthew Davis 2014-2016

Rutgers University

Chris Penney 2012-2013

University of Kansas

Anne-Christine Barthel 2013-2014 Yue Feng 2014-2015

Undergraduate Student Team Members

American University

Zach Duey 2011-2013 Benajmin Miller 2011-12 Robert T Pryor 2011 Maxwell L Blumenthal 2011 Sarah Adler 2011 Kelsey Fritz 2011 Jason Boim 2011 Gregory T Applebach 2011-2013 Benjamin G Gregson 2012-2013 Mariya Tsyglakova 2012-2013 John D Pedersen 2013 Gregory L Koppell 2013 Quinn T Creamer 2013 Drew Badlato 2013 Anthony Primelo 2013 Andy Lin 2013-2014 Alex Young 2014-2015 Kevin Werner 2015-2016 Jeremy Duchin 2017

Independent Research

Zach Duey 2013-2014 John D. Pedersen 2014-2015 Andy Lin 2014 Sean Post 2014 Yami Payano 2014-2015

University of Kansas

Daria Milakhina 2013 Brian Danley 2013 Austin Johnson 2013-2015 Alec Bachman 2013 Daniel Hilliard 2013 Ian Lally 2013 Jonathon Sestak 2013 Natalie Craig 2013 Lorgens Estabine 2013 Megan Nelson 2013 Alec Rothman 2013 Saran Davaajargal 2014-2015 Christopher Lansford 2014-2015

Loyola Marymount University (Los Angeles)

Marissa Hamilton 2014-2015Rahul Daryanani 2015-2016 Derek Dunaway 2014 Niki Flocas 2016 Yasmin Hellman 2016 Ayanna Leaphart 2016 Courtney Ramsey 2014 Isabelle Rebosura 2014 Austin Zuckerman 2016

College of William & Mary

Xin Sui 2015-2016 Bryan Burgess 2015-2016 Robert O'Gara 2015-2016